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The artificial pancreas that could defeat diabetes

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Photo: Aki Hänninen

Type 1 diabetes is at best a huge nuisance and at worst a constant threat of death for up to 3 million Americans whose pancreases don’t produce insulin. Technology has improved the life of some diabetics, with insulin pumps replacing manual injections and glucose monitors that keep constant watch of diabetics’ blood-sugar levels, reducing the need for finger-pricks. Yet diabetics are still required to frequently monitor and adjust their insulin levels. Now one company, Animas Corp., has completed the first successful human trial of a made-for-market artificial pancreas that takes care of everything automatically. Are we on the verge of relegating type 1 diabetes to an easily manageable condition? Here’s a look at the quest to ease the lives of diabetics:

How does an artificial pancreas work?
The replacement pancreas ties together an insulin pump, a glucose monitor, and a computer system that automatically adjusts insulin levels, creating a “closed-loop” system. Animas’ Hypoglycemia-Hyperglycemia Minimizer (HHM) currently uses a laptop to predict how much insulin a patient will need, based on individualized algorithms, and regulates levels accordingly, but the company hopes its artificial pancreas will soon be operated by smartphone, or a processor in the insulin pump. Rival artificial pancreases that are in development — one from Boston and Harvard unversities, and the other from the University of Virginia and an international consortium of researchers — already operate by smartphone.

How did the HHM work in the field?
The artificial pancreas worked very well, but the trial only had 13 subjects, lasted about 20 hours, and took place under constant medical supervision at a hospital.

Full story at The Week.

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